Feel Like Something’s Stuck in Your Throat? This Could Be Why (2024)

Feeling like something is stuck in your throat can be a miserable and sometimes scary experience. You’re not choking, but you don’t feel right either.

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Maybe you can pinpoint something you ate that got stuck on the way down, like a piece of steak or hotdog, that’s making it hard to swallow. Or maybe the feeling has been plaguing you for months without any clear reason, causing you continual coughing and chronic irritation.

What gives? GastroenterologistChristine Lee, MD, explains why you may feel like something is stuck in your throat — whether it’s a sudden, new feeling or one that’s been bugging you for a while — plus, how to make the feeling go away.

Why does my throat feel weird?

When it feels like something is stuck in your throat, it usually comes down to a few culprits:

  • Trouble swallowing due to some sort of obstruction.
  • Trouble swallowing due to chronic acid reflux (GERD).
  • Globus pharyngeus, the painless feeling of a lump in your throat.
  • Other health conditions, including some neuromuscular and autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Lee shares more about these causes, including how they feel, how they’re treated and what not to do if you think you’re experiencing them.

Dysphagia from food obstruction

Dysphagia is the medical term for having difficulty breathing. It can have several different causes, but a common one is having a piece of food stuck in your esophagus — the tube that carries food and liquid from your throat to your stomach.

Maybe you didn’t chew your steak well enough or didn’t realize there were bones in your fish. Next thing you know, you’re coughing and trying to clear your throat, but no matter how much you swallow or how much water you drink, the feeling that something is stuck in your throat just won’t go away. You can breathe, but your throat and chest hurt. And you may have a hard time swallowing your own saliva.

“Dysphagia from food impaction is typically uncomfortable and even painful,” Dr. Lee says, “and it can be dangerous, depending on what’s stuck and where.”

  • If food is stuck in your lower esophagus, drinking water may cause it to pass. But Dr. Lee says it’s often easier to remove it endoscopically.
  • If food is stuck in your upper esophagus, it can impact your windpipe, a key part of your respiratory system. This can compromise your air supply, causing you to have trouble breathing. “You should seek medical attention sooner rather than later,” Dr. Lee urges.

It’s important to know that food stuck in your esophagus can cause significant irritation, inflammation and erosion. For example, a piece of meat with spices or marinade on it that’s stuck for a prolonged amount of time can damage your esophageal lining.

What to do about it: “If you can’t swallow your own saliva, begin drooling, have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or have chest pains, you need to call 911,” stresses Dr. Lee.

But what if you’re dealing with a lesser form of food obstruction? She still warns against doing anything that could make it worse and encourages you to seek medical attention instead.

“If the food obstruction is mild, water or carbonated beverages might help ease the food down,” she says, “but be careful to not overdo it. If the obstruction is severe, you run the risk of adding to it.”

Dysphagia from GERD

Another common cause of dysphagia isgastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This form of acid reflux causes the contents of your stomach to flow back up into your esophagus, which irritates the lining.

“This can cause a burning sensation in the throat and neck, coughing or a nagging feeling that something is stuck behind your breastbone,” Dr. Lee explains. “You might notice that eating certain things, like spicy, fried or fatty foods, makes your symptoms worse."

What to do about it: Antacids or over-the-counter medications like omeprazole or famotidine can help manage heartburn or indigestion.

But if your symptoms are chronic, it’s best to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation. A doctor will want to make sure your symptoms are really being caused by GERD.

Globus sensation

Sometimes, you feel like something is stuck in your throat … but nothing is there. This may be globus sensation (also known as globus pharyngeus), the persistent feeling that something is in your throat or chest without a direct link back to what it could be.

“People with food obstruction can almost always identify what they ate that is now stuck in their esophagus,” Dr. Lee notes, “but with globus pharyngeus, most people describe the sensation as a lump that has been affecting their swallowing for weeks or months.”

People describe the sensation as more uncomfortable than painful. Some people describe it as feeling like they’ve swallowed a pill that’s only made it halfway down.

What are you most likely to do when you feel like something is constantly stuck in your throat? Naturally, you want to cough to try to clear it — but continual coughing can further irritate the lining of your throat or esophagus, causing even more irritation. It can be a vicious circle.

What to do about it: This lingering, annoying feeling may drive you to a healthcare provider’s office to try to figure out what’s going on — and that’s good because how globus pharyngeus is treated depends on what’s causing it.

If the sensation is in your throat, an otolaryngologist (aka, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, or ENT) will have to evaluate your throat and vocal cords to see if something is causing irritation or inflammation.

“Sometimes, it’s a tiny fishbone causing the irritation,” Dr. Lee says, “and sometimes, it can be the least suspecting item. Once, we even found a teeny piece of aluminum foil stuck in someone’s esophagus.”

When the cause has been identified, it can be removed.

Other possible causes

Let’s say you’ve visited a healthcare provider and they don’t find anything obvious that’s causing the lump-in-your-throat feeling. Now what?

Other conditions that can cause the feeling that something is stuck in your throat include:

  • Allergies.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Autoimmune disorders, like scleroderma, eosinophilic esophagitis and lupus.
  • Connective tissue disorders.
  • Neuromuscular disorders, like esophageal motility/muscle contraction disorders.
  • Phlegm.
  • Postnasal drip.
  • Viral infections.

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“If we’ve proven that there’s nothing there, we’ll look for signs of other conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “We’ll even consider the environment. Is the air cold and dry? Is it peak pollen season?”

How to relieve the feeling

Whether it comes on suddenly and you know the cause, or it creeps up over time without any explanation, Dr. Lee again stresses that you should be seen by a healthcare provider, even if you feel tempted to first address it on your own.

Importantly, she cautions against most so-called home remedies, warning that you risk making the condition worse — and you may even risk an esophageal tear, which is a medical emergency.

“If something is bothering you, it may be your body’s way of telling you something’s not right,” she says. “It’s always best to have it checked out.”

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Feel Like Something’s Stuck in Your Throat? This Could Be Why (2024)
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